Brown County Red Cross chapter to help area residents check smoke detectors on Saturday

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ABERDEEN, S.D. Warm weather mixed with dry conditions can present the perfect conditions for a fire. The Red Cross Brown County chapter is hoping to help by checking some smoke detectors in the community.

It's a busy time of year for everyone from work to school to after-school activities, but making sure your smoke detector actually works shouldn't be at the bottom of your to do list.

Sherri Skjonsberg and her family lost their home to a fire back in February near Sisseton.

"It was in the afternoon. The kids were home and my older boy was heating up some grease on the stove and forget and did some chores outside," Skjonsberg said.

Her oldest son came back and couldn't open the door to the house and saw that the kitchen window was completely black. But, he could hear the smoke detectors going off inside.

"He heard them right away but didn't register that it was a fire."

Luckily, his two sisters made sure to go to their designated meeting spot the family decided on in case of a fire. Only the pets were inside, but Skjonsberg's son was able to get the dog out and his fish, but were unable to rescue their gerbils.

It was a tragedy that made the Skjonsberg family more cautiousu about where they lived until their home is repaired. Before they moved into the house they're renting now, they did a walk-through to see if there were any smoke detectors. The family went and bought their own before going to bed that night as well as doing a fire drill so the kids would know where the new meeting spot would be in case of a fire.

As a Red Cross volunteer, Skjonsberg understands why the Brown County chapter is canvasing houses on Saturday. "A lot of the times, we find smoke detectors that aren't plugged in or the batteries are pulled out."

If Red Cross volunteers find a place without smoke detectors, they're able to work with the Aberdeen Fire & Rescue to install them in anyone's home. It's a solid relationship between the two organizations.

"We'll install the smoke alarms and they'll [Red Cross volunteers] go through, go over fire escape plans, how many people are in the home and what to do if the smoke alarm goes off," Aberdeen Fire & Rescue Deputy Fire Marshal Max Stoltenberg said.

It's important to check if your fire alarms are working because a green light or new batteries might make a difference between life and death.

"They provide early warning in the event of a fire. It warns you of spreading smoke and will help alert you if you're sleeping or doing your daily duties," Stoltenberg said.

Half of home fire deaths happen between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., when most people are sleeping.

The Red Cross Brown County chapter will be going around the area all day Saturday to make sure families have an escape plan and that their smoke detectors are functioning properly.

Cold weather may not be on many of our minds right now, but space heater season is just around the corner and a big cause of fires over the next few months. Stoltenberg wants to remind home owners to plug their space heater directly into the outlet as well as making sure they're 3 feet away from any flammable items. Burn pits and their ashes are another big cause of fires because people don't make sure they're completely put out.